Lane Monte Kiffin has in his lifetime in football coaching been both a prodigy and enfant terrible. He has in a relatively short coaching lifetime managed to hold many high profile coaching jobs, yet has managed to leave them all without being thought of fondly by any previous employer or fan base. In fact he seems to be widely disliked…
He is the son of Monte Kiffin a highly thought of defensive guru, the father of the ‘Tampa 2’ defence which the Buccaneers employed during their glory years under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden.
Lane began his coaching career as an a graduate assistant at Colorado State before ending up as TE’s coach with Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans in 2001. These were golden times for USC and by association with the amazing offensive talent the now co-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin also excelled as recruiting coordinator while at USC, a massively important attribute in college coaching, helping to bring in no.1 ranked recruiting classes. So all was going well for young Lane, he was in the hot young coaching prodigy stage then….
In 2007, the by now slightly crazy Al Davis hired Lane Kiffin as Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders. This set many records as Kiffin, at age 31, became the Raiders youngest ever head coach, younger even than the legendary John Madden. He also became the youngest ever head coach in NFL history.
The relationship didn’t start well with Kiffin being vehemently opposed to the Raiders plan to draft QB Jamarcus Russell from LSU. Of course Al Davis won that argument somewhat unfortunately for the Raiders. Neither did Kiffin’s first season go well which ended 4-12, with rumours of Kiffin already looking for other jobs, of stories that he was simply out of his depth swirling around the team and Al Davis allegedly tried to get Kiffin to resign. Kiffin would allegedly have lost $2 million if he resigned so there was no way that was likely.
The following season just got worse. The low point of Kiffin’s Raiders coaching career was probably when he got Seb Janikowski to attempt a 76yd FG vs. San Diego. It missed by around 25 yards and the Raiders were a laughing stock. Al Davis finally cracked and fired Kiffin. He also laid in to him at a press conference, displaying on an overhead projector a letter he had sent to Kiffin, a scathing missive that explained the reasons he was dismissing him, other than a 5-15 record he had amassed.
Kiffin was not unemployed for long as he was named the new Head Coach at the University of Tennessee. There was still a buzz around him and the fact that Al Davis’ accusations seemed to be the ramblings of a crazy old man seemed less damaging. Kiffin’s association with a powerhouse USC program and reputation as an offensive wizard seemed perfect for a college recovering from the dismissal of head coach Phil Fulmer a true Volunteer legend.
He immediately set about ‘raising the profile’ of the University, although some may question whether Tennessee needed it, but similar tactics had worked at USC for Pete Carroll although some of the public spats with other SEC coaches such as Urban Meyer were childish.
On the field the team beat two ranked opponents and finished his first season 7-6, the offence improved markedly, but then it all changed when the USC job became vacant and despite all his proclamations of what he was intending to build at Tennessee he was gone after one season. It would be safe to say it was a move that didn’t go down well with the volunteer fanbase.
Kiffin probably looked on his return to USC as getting his dream job, so perhaps his desertion of Tennessee was understandable. He became HC in January 2010 after Pete Carroll left for the NFL, but in June USC was hit with heavy sanctions for multiple recruitment violations during the Carroll era.
These sanctions would affect USC over the next few years. Kiffin’s first season with the Trojans was 8-5 before going 10-2 in 2011. With QB Matt Barkley seemingly benefitting from playing under the Kiffin regime the Trojans looked to be on the rise. However, 2011 would be the high point of Kiffin’s USC career
In 2012 Kiffin was eligible to vote in the USA today coaches poll to rank college teams. It would be his only voting season, as when he heard (somehow, as it is supposed to be anonymous) that Rich Rodriguez, Arizona’s HC, had voted USC number 1 Kiffin declared “well I certainly wouldn’t rate us no.1 I’ll tell you that”
Angered that a coaches vote had become public knowledge and to protect the polls integrity, USA Today revealed that Lane Kiffin had indeed voted USC no.1 on his ballot. Kiffin apologised for lying and resigned from the panel.
The 2012 season on the field saw the wheels start to come off. Starting the season as the number one ranked team they finished 7-6, including having 62 points put on them by Oregon and finishing with an embarrassing bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
There does seem to be a pattern with Lane Kiffin that when he faces adversity he responds badly, in an attempt to shake up the team he cleared out a lot of his coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Christmas dinner must have been a laugh that year!
He also did something particularly stupid in LA; he shut out the media who had been saying nasty things about him.
The 2013 season started badly and after a home loss to Washington State the USC fans struck up a Fire Kiffin chant. Then after a heavy televised loss, 62-41, to Arizona State Kiffin was fired at LA airport, in a “don’t even get on the bus and return to the University” kind of way. Coincidentally the team went 6-2 after his dismissal.
For the first time in his coaching career, Kiffin tried to be magnanimous regarding his dismissal, particularly during a candid interview with Chris Fowler of College Football Gameday, saying he took responsibility for USC and was still passionate about the school.
Interesting, as the QB when he left USC Cody Kessler, had been praising interim coach Ed Orgeron saying his passion and hands on approach were exactly what had been lacking.
In January 2014 Kiffin interviewed for and was awarded the job of offensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban. It seems incredible how Kiffin consistently gets such high profile posts. It has been an interesting time, with Kiffin being nominated for the Broyles award, given to the top college assistant coach, after the 2014 season.
It seemed his rehabilitation as a top coaching prospect would be complete. There have been, as there always are ‘issues’ with Kiffin, despite him receiving plaudits for his work with Bama’s offence some of the sideline chewing’s out he has received from Saban regarding his play calling have been entertaining.
Then there is the off field stuff relating to an alleged affair with either a Booster’s (high profile donor to the university) wife or the daughter of Saban. Nothing has been proven, although his wife has filed for divorce.
The most bizarre and recent chapter in the Lane Kiffin saga is that in an off season where a number of high profile jobs have become vacant – including Houston and offensive coordinator at LSU where he would allegedly be offered $5 million dollars per year – he has ended up as head coach at Florida Atlantic University, a small university with a football program started only in 2001 and playing in Conference USA.
There are once again various rumours of college administrators carrying out due diligence speaking to counterparts and what they heard made Kiffin “unhireable” (allegedly the comment came from a U Houston higher up, a job Kiffin had high hopes of getting).
He admitted that his new job had left him pre-occupied while trying to prepare Bama for its CFP semi-final with Washington on New Year’s Eve, he was relieved of his duties after the game and has now officially left. Respected college football observers, Bruce Feldman and Pat Forde both tweeted about ‘Drama’ surrounding Lane post CFP semi-final, Nick Saban does not do drama.
Lane Kiffin, asshole or coaching genius? It would seem the former until proven otherwise.